Aging Well: Helping aging boomers become sages

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It’s probably an understatement to say that Eston Williams is fired up! The pastor of Aley United Methodist in Seven Points, Texas has 65 years of “life experiences,” as he likes to say, and has taken to social media, church conferences, phone calls and newsletters to try to change the way church leaders think about aging. In fact, Rev. Williams is hoping to help turn the tide among his Methodists peers who show signs of apathy about the growing number of unchurched Boomers and the untapped wisdom of the churches’ faithful older adults.

Rev. Eston Williams

Rev. Eston Williams

Echoing the words of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of Sage-ing International, Williams explains that it is a matter of helping people become spiritual elders and not just old folks. Sage-ing is about rethinking the aging process in terms of passion and purpose, service and spirituality, community and legacy instead of disengagement, disease and death. Williams also emphasizes that with about 7500 Boomers turning 65 each day, the church has a tremendous opportunity to grow by providing meaningful ministry to and with this age group.

Serving small rural congregations in East Texas for over fifteen years, Williams describes how he had become depressed as a result of buying into the youth culture’s negative perspective on aging. “When I looked into the eyes of my graying congregation, I could only see hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and funerals in the future,” he says. He credits the work of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, including his book From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older and spiritual eldering workshops, for helping him look at aging differently to see the unique potential for spiritual growth in the last third of life.

As a trained Sage-ing Circle Facilitator for Sage-ing International, Williams asked for and received a grant from the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church to train other church leaders in the Sage-ing philosophy also known as conscious, positive aging. “I tell people that my ministry is guided by two Jewish rabbis: Jesus of Nazareth and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi,” he explains.

The Sage-ing workshops include a life review process which helps participants think of themselves as a council of elders or wise sages who have an opportunity to impact generations to come. Williams says the program has been very well-received in his own church, and in fact, across the nation. “Participants make comments that they have gone to church and Sunday school with the same people for decades but have never talked about anything so important.”

Each with 72 years of “life experiences,” Jan and Byron Killen are members of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas, TX. They participated in a Sage-ing retreat a few years and affirm William’s account. “Prioritizing the rest of our lives as we identify our spiritual gifts and our legacy is one of life’s richest rewards. We plan to continue Sage-ing, individually and together, for the reminder of time we are blessed to have.”

Another proponent of spiritual eldering, Dr. Gary Carlson of Albuquerque, NM, describes the experience as helping church members recognize “the possibilities for becoming an elder rather than simply elderly as we age.”

Dr. Will Randolph, the director of the Office on Aging and Older Adult Ministry for the United Methodist Church shares the passion of Williams and others who are anxious to change the mindset about aging.  “When there are not off-the-shelf programs for Older Adults from United Methodist sources, sometime there are good outside programs, easily adaptable for your church setting. Rev. Eston Williams and Aley Church have discovered a great program that uplifts Older Adults, helping them rediscover their self-worth.”

In February and March 2014, Williams will be leading two-day training sessions for church leaders of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church at various locations. (http://www.northtexasumc.org/north-texas-conference-news/unchurched-boomers-need-your-love-too.)  For more information about Sage-ing International, go to www.sage-ing.org.

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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1 Comment on "Aging Well: Helping aging boomers become sages"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Nathan Firmin
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Thank you for an excellent resource. We are making inroads activating our college youth into service to younger youth in our church, Boomers have been resistant to engagement. There is a lot of ‘I raised my kids, y’all raise your own’. The sage-ing concept sounds like a sound way to engage the Boomers(I am one) who tend toward the what’s in it for me perspective. Your blog is a major resource I’ve been seeking. God bless.

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